The word “naturopathy” was first used in the U.S. exactly 100 years ago. But the natural therapies and the philosophy on which naturopathy is based have been effectively used to treat diseases since ancient times. As Rene Dubos noted in The Mirage of Health (1959), the word “physician” is from the Greek root meaning “nature.” Hippocrates, a physician who lived 2400 years ago, is often considered the earliest predecessor of naturopathic physicians, particularly in terms of his teaching that “nature is healer of all diseases” and his formulation of the concept *vis medicatrix naturae* — “the healing power of nature.” This concept has long been at the core of indigenous medicine in many cultures around the world and remains one of the central themes of naturopathic philosophy to this day.
The earliest doctors and healers worked with herbs, foods, water, fasting, and tissue manipulation — gentle treatments that do not obscure the body’s own healing powers. Today’s naturopathic physicians continue to use these therapies as their main tools and to advocate a healthy dose of primary prevention. In addition, modern NDs conduct and make practical use of the latest biochemical research involving nutrition, botanicals, homeopathy, and other natural treatments. For many diseases and conditions (a few examples are ulcerative colitis, asthma, menopause, flu, obesity, and chronic fatigue), treatments used by naturopathic physicians can be primary and even curative. Naturopathic physicians also function within an integrated framework, for example referring patients to an appropriate medical specialist such as an oncologist or a surgeon. Naturopathic therapies can be employed within that context to complement the treatments used by conventionally trained medical doctors. The result is a team-can approach that recognizes the needs of the patient to receive the best overall treatment most appropriate to his or her specific medical condition.
Naturopathic medicine was popular and widely available throughout the U.S. well into the early part of the 20th century. Around 1920, from coast to coast, there were a number of naturopathic medical schools, thousands of naturopathic physicians, and scores of thousands of patients using naturopathic therapies. But the rise of “scientific medicine,” the discovery and increasing use of “miracle drugs” like antibiotics, the institutionalization of a large medical system primarily based (both clinically and economically) on high-tech and pharmaceutical treatments — all of these were associated by mid-century with the temporary decline of naturopathic medicine and most other methods of natural healing.
By the 1970s, however, the American public was becoming increasingly disenchanted with conventional medicine. The profound clinical limitations of conventional medicine and its out-of-control costs were becoming obvious, and millions of Americans were inspired to look for “new” options and alternatives. Naturopathy and all of complementary alternative medicine began to enter a new era of rejuvenation.